Dec. 4, 2018

Biomedical engineering conference helps students get their ideas out of the lab and into the market

Commercial gathering offers insights into entrepreneurship beyond the scientific realm
Alberta Biomedical Engineering Conference
Alberta Biomedical Engineering Conference Schulich School of Engineering photos

Rakesh Narang’s research using microwaves to detect bacteria may have moved a tiny bit closer to commercialization. Jacob Kennard likely found some potential new collaborators for his work investigating abdominal aneurysms. And Shivek Kanwar is encouraged by the growing entrepreneurial spirit he sees in the biomedical research community in Calgary.

The three biomedical engineering students — Narang and Kennard are master's students in the multi-faculty graduate program and Kanwar is a third-year undergraduate in the Schulich School of Engineering — helped the BME Graduate Program organize the 19th Annual Alberta Biomedical Engineering Conference in Banff at the end of October. 

Constructive feedback

More than 120 delegates from universities, industry and health-care facilities attended. They heard from guest speakers including Dr. John Dewitt, PhD, a senior biomechanist at NASA and Dr. Rita Kandel, MD, of the Institute for Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering at the University of Toronto. 

Over the course of two days, 77 BME students presented their work in podium and poster presentations.

“I got a lot of constructive feedback,” says Kennard. “It was really helpful for my research; there was a lot more conversation and I got some advice on some technical things to take back to the lab.” 

During breaks and networking sessions at the conference, he may have found some other researchers to work with.

“As a smaller conference, it’s more intimate and there’s a lot more opportunity to talk with your peers and mentors and get a lot more conversation going.” 

Tips on going to market

Narang’s research is working with microwaves to detect bacteria non-invasively and monitor how the pathogens interact with antibiotics.

He received some helpful scientific comments during his presentation and after, he got some tips about how to potentially commercialize the work.

“I had a conversation about startups and entrepreneurship that went beyond the scientific realm and how I could potentially market this toward a more real-life setting. I thought that was really helpful,” he says. “Since then, I’ve talked to my supervisor about it and made a little stride toward entrepreneurship.”

Work doesn't stop in the lab

Shivek Kanwar also took a lot away from the conference and in particular the student presentations.

“It was a really great feeling to observe and absorb all that,” says the president of the Biomedical Engineering Students' Society. “Seeing other students who’ve done research and listening to their vision about how they could potentially commercialize it and scope out the future of their work was really interesting.”

Kanwar wants to further the intersection of entrepreneurship, policy and health care.

“My goal is to see  the impact on people's lives. The research is a key factor, but how do we take that research to the people? More and more people in the biomedical community in Calgary are interested in seeing how we can push innovation.”

All levels of discourse impress

Officials at the conference said the calibre of discussion and presentations was inspiring.

“The quality of presentations and degree of discourse throughout the conference always amazes me at this meeting. We have graduate students, but also undergraduates and even high school students present work at a very high level,” says Dr. Michael Kallos, PhD, conference co-chair and head of the university’s  Biomedical Engineering Calgary Initiative.

“The Hunter Hub for Entrepreneurial Thinking was a key sponsor and representatives facilitated conversations around connecting bench-side research to real-world application, and possible commercialization.

"The Hunter Hub empowers our students to thrive in today’s knowledge-based economy and the best way to do that is to support incredible events like this with hands-on learning experiences.”

The University of Calgary’s multidisciplinary Engineering Solutions for Health: Biomedical Engineering research strategy drives solutions to our most pressing health challenges in disease and injury prevention, diagnosis and treatments. Our biomedical engineering researchers make a significant impact in our communities by extending lives, improving quality of life, promoting independence, and continuously improving the health system.